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Parshas Ki Sisa: True love is Lifelong Honeymoon

Parshas Ki Sisa:

Dear Friends and Family,

Start off the week with an upbeat song: We got the Torah!

Parshas Ki Sisa: True love is Lifelong Honeymoon

At Mt. Sinai, G-d’s presence was so clear to the nation that it was as if we were coerced to accept Torah. The hard part isn’t accepting the relationship when our feelings are clear and true, but years down the road, when the honeymoon period has ended and keeping the feeling alive takes hard work.

That’s the significance of Purim. Even when G-d didn’t appear with any open miracles and even his name is masked, the Jewish people still gathered together and recognized his guidance behind the seeming horrors and successes of our physical world.

The sin of the Golden Calf was the decision to turn away from a direct connection to Hashem at the very moment of the closest connection. Even though the Calf was a replacement for Moses, not G-d, even though it was simply a tool for those few to connect to G-d, it was a heinous deviation because of how intimate their connection with Hashem was. Imagine if your significant other is waiting for you for a date and you come thirty minutes late because you were talking to their siblings. It’s not that you were doing the worst thing, but your actions and timing were completely inappropriate. In fact, in the proper setting, the Jews were encouraged to direct their prayers to the Aron, which was covered by the Cherubim.

The lesson for us is to recognize where we are right now. G-d is hidden in our world, which makes Purim the most relatable Jewish holiday of the year. But those that hold fast to Torah, who grip tight to Hashem, are striving for that close relationship despite any obstacles. We cannot allow distractions and lesser goods to get in our way. We cannot direct our energy and focus purely to work, or pleasure seeking, or entertainment, if it means giving up the moment of connecting personally.

Everyone has an individual responsibility to make the most of their relationship, to give their all. That’s why the word for love in Hebrew is “אהב” — literally meaning, “I will give”. Rabbi Kelemen explains that a secular marriage is healthy if each person helps the other achieve their goals 50/50 — I take out the trash and you clean the dishes, you watch the kids tonight and I will tomorrow. You be successful in your thing and I’ll be successful in my thing. The healthy Jewish marriage is one in which we are aligned and coordinated, where what I want takes a back seat for what will be best for us. I don’t get a day off if that means you’ll be more frazzled. The focus is on what’s best for us as a unit, rather than what’s optimal as individuals. Thus, the relationship changes the individual — their goals, desires and pleasures change to fit each other.

He explains that one who constantly pursues happiness for himself will always feel the lack, the gap between where he is and where he wants to be. But one who is constantly giving to the other will not be able to think of the lack in himself because he’s thinking how to fill the lack and needs of the other. And as a side benefit, he will achieve a steady state of happiness.

May you be blessed from Purim to Purim to recognize and invest yourself into the most important relationships, the most important activities, and the most important acts of giving, so that you can be truly fulfilled and happy in this world and the world to come.

Shavua Tov!

-Ari Melman

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Purim: How Can We Live as if G-d Exists Without Sensing Him?

Dear Friends and Family,

Happy Purim! Purim is the one day of the year we are Halachically obligated to drink, until we cannot tell the difference between Baruch (Bless) Mordechai and Aror (Curse) Hamen.

* Fun Fact: Is that why J.K. Rolling calls her Wizarding task-force Aurors?

* The gematria of ברוך מרדכי is identical to ארור המן   

:128 +174=502 and 207+95 =502. One explanation is that we must drink until we can no longer do the math. (Rama on Tor).

* Drinking this much removes our da’as and self-control. Our essential character emerges — will we be praising G-d’s wonders, celebrating community and bubbling over Torah ideas, or will we be gorging our bodies, lusting and losing touch with reality? Rabbi Israel Salanter, founder of the mussar movement, used to drink like a pirate throughout Purim but his students saw no change in his extreme enthusiasm or demeanor until the moment he passed out on the table. We should strive for that level of true control of mind controlling the heart rather than letting the body control the heart.

Listen to my newest song, Kodesh LeHashem (Based on Parshas Tetzaveh) here!

I’ve heard from a few people a troubling question:

Purim: How Can We Live as if G-d Exists Without Sensing Him?

Thankfully, Purim is the perfect time to answer that question!

Compilation of Summaries:

First part summary: Purim is the only holiday we celebrate where Hashem’s presence is completely hidden and there are no open miracles. It opens at a party of all the peoples of the world celebrating the failure of Jeremiah’s prophesy, the rebuilding of the Temple, to come true. When the Jews join in, they demonstrated giving higher priority to celebrating man’s power than G-d’s.

Second Part Summary: The stage is now set — G-d is completely hidden from the Jewish people and the world. The Jewish people’s duty is to discover G-d’s Hashgacha/Directing Hand even in the hiddenness. But in attending the party celebrating the Temple’s permanent destruction, they lost their vision. Only one thing can save them: Reflection.

Summary: Our desire for G-dliness brings the light of G-dliness into the world. The measure of the Jewish people’s connection to G-d is their desire to be close to Him. When one studies Torah, they find G-d in the darkness of the natural world, and the darkness becomes lit.

Part 1: The Set-up — Purim Opens Just Like Today

The Purim story opens 70 years after the first temple was destroyed and the Jews were exiled to the 127 provinces that made up the great Persian Empire. Achashverosh the King invites everybody to a massive party, with food and drink tailored to the diverse populations’ needs. There was plenty of Kosher food,and “the drinking was without duress…according to each man’s desire” (Esther, 1:8).

Our Rabbis teach that the Jews set their destruction into motion by attending the party (Midrash Rabbah, Esther 1:7). What was the problem?

The measure of the Jewish people’s connection to G-d is their desire to be close to Him. According to their desire will be their connection.

If the Jewish people value assimilation more than they value closeness to Hashem, that’s what they’ll get.

At the very essence of a person’s being, there can lie only one primary goal, from which everything else is submissive to. If Torah is primary, everything else can benefit that goal. If appealing to the masses is primary, Torah will fall by the wayside when it is inconvenient.

Was the purpose of the party to celebrate the Creator? Just the opposite. Yirmiahu (Jeremiah) decreed that the second Temple would be rebuilt 70 years after the destruction of the first. When it wasn’t, King Achashverosh celebrated. He dressed in the clothing of the Cohen Gadol, whose significance we spoke about last week for parshas Tetzaveh. The Vilna Gaon explains that when Achashverosh offers Esther up to 1/2 his kingdom, anything more than that would be the Beis Mikdash/Temple. The whole country celebrated the end of the Beis Mikdash, and the supremacy of man’s power over G-d’s.    

When the Jews celebrated with Achashverosh, they chose assimilated life over G-dly life. Hashem was nowhere to be seen or felt, the party was popular and fun and kosher. But in no longer longing for connection to their Creator, they no longer achieved the connection.

First part summary: Purim is the only holiday we celebrate where Hashem’s presence is completely hidden and there are no open miracles. It opens at a party of all the peoples of the world celebrating the failure of Jeremiah’s prophesy, the rebuilding of the Temple, to come true. When the Jews join in, they demonstrated giving higher priority to celebrating man’s power than G-d’s.

Part 2: Explaining Holiday Names — Hiddenness is an Even Greater Sign of G-d than Revelation

Tractate Megilah explains that Purim is likely the holiest day of the year. It’s even holier than Yom Kippur, whose name means “like Purim”, Ki (Like)- Pur(Purim), כפור. Purim makes up the Yom Kippur meal, and is meant to be the best meal of the year, when we’re obligated to have the best delicacies, meat and wine, and provide the same for the poor. That’s because Yom Kippur is the actual day Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets he carved himself (and the people accepted the Torah under duress), while Purim is the day when the people accepted the Torah willingly. The Maharal explains that the revelation at Mt. Sinai was so powerful, so obviously real that it was impossible to deny. Accepting for forever what exists with blinding clarity in the present is a form of coercion. (Imagine signing a lifetime contract to your favorite company — it’s risky. Luckily for us, G-d isn’t as fickle as any man or company.)

Purim is the mirror image of Yom Kippur. Instead of dressing as simply as possible, we wear lavish costumes and masks. Instead of fasting, we feast. Instead of long, quiet prayer and meditation, we have long conversations, spend much of the day interacting with the poor and drinking wine.

On Yom Kippur, we bring ourselves up to G-d. On Purim, we bring G-d down to us.

The way we connect to G-d is the way He connects to us. Reflected in that is a profound life lesson: The way we treat others is the way Hashem treats us.

Our ability to recognize G-d’s governing the world even in hiddenness reflects our ability to see the good in ourselves and in others. That’s the meaning behind Megillas Esther. Megillah means “Reveal” and Esther means “Hidden”. When we reveal the hidden governing force directing our lives, it builds our connection to Hashem and our recognition of Hashem in the world. That brings G-d into this world.

The name Purim comes from Pur/ פור, meaning lottery. Haman ran a lottery to determine the date to destroy the Jews. His goal was to leave the world to nature. By allowing natural forces to determine the Jews destruction, it would be the ultimate denial of G-d’s governing force.

Second Part Summary: The stage is now set — G-d is completely hidden from the Jewish people and the world. The Jewish people’s duty is to discover G-d’s Hashgacha/Directing Hand even in the hiddenness. But in attending the party celebrating the Temple’s permanent destruction, they lost their vision. Only one thing can save them: Reflection.

Part 3: Bringing Spiritual Light into the World Shines G-dliness in the Darkness

The Maharsha says the biggest miracle of Purim is that Mordechai and Esther still wanted the Beis Mikdash more than anything. As soon as Haman sees they still want it, he decides to destroy all the Jews. As long as Jews can yearn for the return of the Mikdash, of the return of G-d’s primacy over men, then they are a threat to kingly rule.

The Torah frequently contrasts light and darkness. In the beginning, G-d created light — a spiritual light, the true light, the contraction of G-dliness into a physical world separate but inclusive in Him (this concept is the basis of Kabbalah and it’s fine not to understand what it means now.)

By light, we can easily see what’s in front of us. For example, it’s easy for us to walk up an unknown staircase with the lights on. If we enter the staircase in darkness, it’s much more difficult. If we get a brief glimpse of the staircase in light before the lights go out, it’s considerably easier to climb the staircase.

Our duty as Jews is to hold onto the brief glimpses of light we get to traverse through the darkness. Our challenge is to bring light into a world of darkness. Even if we don’t see the light. Even if the darkness seems all-consuming.

As babies, our parents provide our every need — they feed, clothe, and provide us activities. It’s impossible to feel independent from them. Our acceptance of their rule is coerced.

As teenagers, we still live in our parents home but we feel more and more tug from the outside world — it’s easier to separate from their will, to break curfew, to party. This is a dangerous test — but there’s still no denying how important our parents are to us. Without them, we’d be homeless.

As adults, we have to actively reflect to remember the kindness our parents did for us. Otherwise, we can all to easily cut them out of our lives. If that becomes the case, we can easily reach a state where we forget how good life was with them in it, how important they were to our development. The true test of our good character is how well we treat our parents when we no longer need to treat them well to survive.

But those who do treat their parents well in adulthood will attest, you still need your parents to thrive and feel fully alive. To feel connected to the chain of history that spawned you. To know there are people that love you deeper than you love yourself. Outsiders will scoff and try to destroy that closeness, or at least reduce it, and without conviction and regular reflection, its all too easy to lose sight of. But holding on is so worth it.

Now G-d isn’t like parents in one incredibly important way. Parents are human, and some can suffer from human flaws (not mine, of course — they’re wonderful). G-d is the embodiment of good and love and as such, guides us and accepts us with all our quirks. The challenge of discovering G-d is reflecting on our entire lives up until this point, weaving our own Megillahs, and finding the hidden connections that ended up being for our own good.

Oral Torah is described as light to the written Torah’s darkness. For while humans cannot understand G-d’s mind, we can shine light on the passages of the Torah and in doing so, expound on the depth and details in them. This is also how science works — shine a strong light on a tiny area and notice how all the details make up the whole. Or conversely, look at a large whole and see how it’s made up of many tiny details. In our lives, see how our accomplished goals — our families, careers, creative outputs, etc are all made up of many tiny steps along the way, many beyond our control to predict.

Hashgacha/G-d’s governing hand doesn’t need to be obvious for us to accept. When you study Megillas Esther and find the hidden Hashgacha, that’s Oral Torah. At times when G-d hides his face, we must look for the points of hasgacha. The tipping point of the Purim story comes when Achashverosh tries to sleep, and remembers Mordechai. In the darkest, most hidden moments, G-d plants the cure for the affliction.

That’s why Purim is the birth of Oral Torah — unlike any manly wisdom, Torah cannot be gotten from a person’s own wisdom and diligence. If a person believes himself to be independently brilliant, he will always reach the wrong conclusion on Torah. Many of the greatest scholars in Torah wrote that for years they were blocked and slow to understand, and only after pleading in prayer for access to Torah knowledge was it granted and their novel insights unlocked.

When one studies Torah, they find G-d in the darkness, and the darkness becomes lit.

Summary: Our desire for G-dliness brings the light of G-dliness into the world. The measure of the Jewish people’s connection to G-d is their desire to be close to Him. When one studies Torah, they find G-d in the darkness of the natural world, and the darkness becomes lit.

One final point: The Manot HaLevi, author of Kabbalas Shabbas’s Lecha Dodi, wrote a book on Purim for his bride because he couldn’t afford to give her Shalach Manos treats for Purim. He explains: Megillas Esther begins with “ויהי בימי אחשברש” — “And it was in the days of Achashverosh” — our sages explain every time the word Vayehi — “and it was” — appears, it alludes to the language of צר, repression. By contrast, the language V’Hayah / והיה — “and it will be” is a language of Simcha, Happiness. Both have what’s called a Vav Hiphsuk, which transforms the tense from past -> future, or vice-versa. Thus, the former (ויהי) is a future verb transformed to past, and the latter (והיה) is past turned to future.

If the future is nothing but an old past, that’s repression and constraint.

But if the past paints way toward a new future, thats Simchah, that’s happiness.

May you be blessed to hold onto the clarity of past events to paint a beautiful future. With all this in mind, may your Purim be filled with deep connection to friends, family, parents and G-d, uplifting of all our physical and social ties, and a wonderful appreciation of the great goodness that guides our lives. The more we recognize the goodness, the more we bring into the world.

Great Purim!

-Ari Melman